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Cannon caps off Peoria Park District tenure as ELITE outreach becomes an independent entity

Joe Deacon
ELITE Community Outreach founder Carl Cannon speaks during a news conference about his retirement from the Peoria Park District on Wednesday outside the Noble Center.

Quibbling a tad with semantics, Carl Cannon said he remains motivated by a desire to provide inspiration and opportunity for those in need.

“I’m not — retirement is such a poor choice of words, because I’m not retiring,” said Cannon. “I’m getting ready to double down on seeing those lights come on.”

After 21 years, Cannon is stepping away from his position with the Peoria Park District, as the ELITE Community Outreach program he founded transitions into an independent not-for-profit organization.

“We are leasing space at the Peoria Dream Center, where we run the Game Changers alternative safe school for at-risk students. If you want to see a group that's making a difference in the city, come down to the Dream Center,” Cannon told the crowd of nearly 100 gathered Wednesday morning outside the Noble Center.

“We will continue to run ELITE Re-entry, where men and women looking for a second chance or another chance can come and get soft skills and other training. We will continue with the ELITE K-8 compliance program in selective schools where our team will help American heroes — teachers — manage behavior so they can effectively teach.”

Cannon said he’s been fortunate to report to a park district facility for work each day over the past two decades, calling his tenure “a tremendously rewarding experience.”

“I've had such a great opportunity to work with amazing people and watch these caring, kind, generous people help the Peoria community in so many ways over so many years,” he said.

A Peoria High School graduate, Cannon went from a career in the military to serving as a corrections officer at Pekin Federal Prison before joining the park district and developing the ELITE program.

“The first half of my adult life I was a prison guard,” he said. “One day — I could only describe it as an encounter with God — I no longer wanted to be good at locking people up. I wanted to be part of the answer that kept kids and adults out of our institutions.”

Joe Deacon
Peoria Park District Executive Director Emily Cahill says she expects the district will continue to collaborate with Carl Cannon following his retirement as his ELITE Community Outreach program becomes a standalone entity.

Park District Executive Director Emily Cahill said Cannon has had a major impact on changing the lives of kids and families across the Peoria area, noting the ELITE alternative school produced more than 1,600 graduates during his leadership.

“For the park district specifically, being able to help to financially support (ELITE), help it to build its reputation, help Carl to reach a network of supporters and leaders across the country has been really magnificent from our perspective,” she said, noting she anticipates an ongoing collaboration with Cannon.

“We look forward to really continuing to be that employer for the kids that he's training in ELITE, for those returning citizens that come out of the re-entry program. We look forward to actually relying on him to help to make some of our festivals and events safer with his Game Changers. We look forward to just doing everything that we can to support each other. He's going to report to a different office, but we're still going to partner together and we're still going to do the things necessary to make this community better because that is the mission of both the park district and ELITE Community Outreach.”

Cahill said Cannon has played an instrumental role in helping shape the park district’s focus.

“He has held us accountable when it comes to some of our programming. He has helped us to reach all parts of our community. He has taught us a lot with his heart, and with his just real talent when it comes to reaching kids,” she said.

“His energy certainly inspires all of us and we will miss him. But it's not like he's moving away. We're going to continue to have collaborative conversations with him and we're going to continue to find ways to work together,” she said. “But yes, we will miss him greatly and we look forward to seeing what things he can accomplish.”

Cannon thanked a long list of family members, friends, colleagues and supporters, many of whom were in the crowd, for helping make the ELITE program successful.

“Remember that it really does take a village: a village of volunteers, employers, donors, and so much more. With that same help, ELITE will continue to serve in the future to meet our goal to continue to make a positive difference in the lives of people,” said Cannon. “I believe the sky’s the limit.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.